There are five distinct types of PREPOSTION: direction, position, time, manner and relation or agent.


For comparison, we have listed the equivalent ADVERBS below:



DIRECTION                                       POSITION


across                                                          across

at, to¹, towards                                          at

into                             in, inwards             in, inside, within     in, inside, [within]

out of [out]²             out, outwards         outside                     outside

on, onto                    [on]                           on                              [on]

from                                                            [far from]

over [above]           [overhead]               over, above³             overhead

through                                                      throughout

below                                                          below                        below

up                             upwards

down                       downwards

[nearer]                                                      near                           nearby

along                       along                        alongside                  [alongside]

[between]                                                 between                   in between

                                                                   opposite                    opposite


NOTICE: ¹ Whilst both prepositions of direction, "at" and "to" are not always synonyms. It is unusual to use "at" as a directional preposition being used solely to mean "in the direction of", or  "towards".


The rescuers through a lifeline to the drowning man. [Means intentionally directed]

I fired my gun at the enemy soldier. [Means intentionally directed]

I fired towards the enemy. [Means undirected, in the general direction of]

I took the train to Cannon Street. [Meaning the train heading for]

I took the train at Cannon Street. [Meaning the train leaving from]

I'm going to London Bridge. [NOT I'm going at London Bridge]

²Although "out of" should be used as a preposition of direction, it is becoming more common for the English to drop the "of" after "to go". English is a language which develops every day, but whilst you may hear someone saying "I went out the house for some milk", it is still preferable to say "I went out of the house for some milk."


³Use "above" when you mean "over but not touching" as in "There are clouds above London" but not "There is fog above London" as this implies low clouds that are higher than the buildings.





"Lay the cables along the joists, not across them."

"Pointing that knife at me will not frighten me off."

"Looking into the future, we'll be getting more of our gas from fracking."

"The driver was backing out of his driveway without looking."

"She had to place her dog on the stand as he couldn't jump onto it."

"We were coming from town when the tremor occurred."

"The Luftwaffe were coming over the Sussex coast when we saw them, but we had the luxury of height."

"The RAF Hurricanes had climbed above the raiders and gained the advantage of surprise."

"The Crossrail tunnels travelling under London, have to pass underneath all the existing Underground network."

"David forced his way through the heavy jungle to find the gorillas."

"Sasha felt sick as she looked below her flippers and saw the sinister outline of a Great White shark."

"After the collision, the direction sign was left pointing up the wrong road."

"He continued running down the beach, even though the tide was lapping at his feet."

"Using the cover of darkness, she got nearer and nearer to her target." [Here the repetition of "nearer" indicates direction rather than simply position because she is travelling in the direction of the target]

"They have laid the new tracks to run along the same course as the original abandoned project."

"We had to thread the new sewer between the houses to reach the main one under the street." [Here the direction of the sewer is dictated by the alignment of the existing buildings, and passing between them determines its course]


"I've never got a nail in first time."

"The control arm was moving inwards."

"She pulled the arrowhead out before it infected her leg."

"He had to clean the windows by leaning outwards, a hundred feet above the busy street."

"He moved on without looking back." [Direction is implied from a previous reference]

"He couldn't keep up with the ninjas as they disappeared overhead towards the stationary ventilator." [Implies an upward, airborne direction]

"She continued climbing upwards and eventually reached the safety of the ledge."

"When she looked downwards she was almost overcome with vertigo."

"Just keep rolling along and you'll get there."



"The fallen rocks were lying across the tracks."

"They had arrived at the spot marked on the treasure map."

"Mary walked in the shadows to keep cool."

"Inside, the restaurant was much cooler."

"The temperature was lower within the freezer compartment."

"It was only when she looked at the window display from outside, that she got the full effect."

"We were pleased to be called the folks who live on the hill."

"Buffy wanted to get her sister as far from the vampires as she could." [You have to add "as" to make the preposition work]

"Catwoman was hanging directly above the gemstone, with her whip looped over a roof beam."

"Mohammed Ali was known throughout the world."

"The shark launched its attack from below its victim."

"He held his breath: the wraith was very near his chair."

"The sheriff pulled alongside the stolen car."

"The drugs had been hidden between the seat cushions."

"They had been keeping watch on the bank from the opposite side of the street."



"Will you still be in when I get there?"

"Hold your position, there are people inside!"

"The rescuers stopped to  listen for sounds coming from within." [Add "from" to complete the adverb]

"Where's the cat, still outside?"

"No, don't move it, put it back on." [There is no need to specify on what, as both parties are aware of this]

"Hanging the tracks overhead, immediately solved the space problems."

"She watched with horror as the pirates came alongside." [A nautical reference, meaning beside another vessel]

"I don't know if I'm in Heaven, Hell or someplace in between."

"The police broke into the wrong flat, the one they wanted was opposite."



There are nine common PREPOSITIONS OF TIME and three have related ADVERBS

PREPOSITIONS                               ADVERBS

after                                                 afterwards, later, subsequently, then          


before                                              beforehand, before that, earlier, previously 

during                                              meanwhile                 








"I shall take a walk after lunch."

"Don't get there too early, the show starts at nine o'clock, but he only comes on at the end."

"Wash your hands before you sit at the table!"

"The boys had been caught passing notes during the exam."

"I've been waiting here for hours!"

"The equipment will not be ready for¹  another four weeks."

"I love Paris in the Springtime."

"Let's catch the train, the next one arrives in ten minutes."

"It's been at least ten years since we last saw each other."

"If you're expecting someone to help, you'll be waiting until the cows come home!"



"I'll lead the negotiations and report back to you afterwards."

"I have an appointment before I leave the lunch, but I can fit you in later if you'd like."

"Subsequently, we discovered that she had never been pregnant."

"I fired twice without hitting anything, then I fired again and he went down."

"If we'd had that information beforehand, we could have avoided a lot of embarrassment."

"Emily arrived in the Hamptons two years ago. I've no idea where she had been living before that."

"Earlier, you testified that you had seen the defendant leaving the premises."

"Previously, on 'Revenge'..."

"Poor Robin was still tied to the chair. Meanwhile*, Batman was fighting with the Joker."



¹ "for" can be used with either defined or undefined quantities and numerals.

²"since" can be used with moments in time or units of time, but not with numeric quantities. It is not correct to say "Since three weeks...", but it is correct to say "It has been three weeks since..." or "I've been interested in trains since I was a child."


³"during" is used to indicate the passage of time.


*"meanwhile" indicates an event occurring simultaneously as another separate event. It has proved flexible in its location within sentences over the years. The example shown is the form currently in favour, but it can be placed after the subject ["Batman, meanwhile, was fighting with the Joker"] or even between the verbs ["Batman was, meanwhile, fighting with the Joker"].                        



There are seven common PREPOSITIONS in this category:

against  [ə’ɡenst] 

among(st)  [ə’mʌŋ(st)] 

by  [bɑı] 

except  [ık’sept] 

for  [fə/fɔ:] 

with  [wı∂] 

without  [wı’∂ɑƱt] 



"How the mighty are fallen! Manchester United were playing against Manchester City at home last night, and lost by three goals to nil."

"He was a prince among men."

"Some people believe that Shakespeare's plays were actually written by Sir Francis Bacon."

"I've looked everywhere for those keys, except for the one place I'd never expected: the lock!"

"I've put the present I bought for Naza in a 'Love and Hugs' gift bag."

"I'm going to Church on Sunday to spend time with God and my other friends."

"The car won't be going anywhere without petrol!"



In addition to the specific categories above, there are several more words or phrases that act as PREPOSITIONS  


amid(st)  [’əmıd(st)] 

apart from  [ə’pɑ:t frəm]

following  [’fɒləƱıŋ] 

per  [pɜ:] 

via  [’vɑıə] 



"You could barely hear the birdsong amid the traffic noise on Park Lane."

"The room was almost empty, apart from a small, ticking bomb."

"Following another power cut, all the food in the freezer was ruined."

"I made certain that I wasn't being followed, per your instructions."

"At the weekends the trains have to operate via Blackheath, while the track through Deptford is being replaced."



The class of ADVERB above are also known as ADVERBIAL PARTICLES. These can function as PREPOSITIONS. Unlike PRESPOSITIONS these are not followed by an OBJECT. They are used to form PHRASAL VERBS. 035



about  [ə’bɑƱ t] 

above  [ə’bʌv] 

across  [ə’krɒs] 

along  [ə’lɒŋ] 

around  [ə’rɑƱnd] 

before  [bı’fɔ:] 

behind  [bı’hɑınd] 

below  [bı’ləƱ] 

beyond  [bı’jɒnd] 

by  [bɑı] 

down  [Ʊn] 

in  [ın] 

in between  [ın bı’twı:n] 

inside  [ın’sɑıd] 

near  [nıə] 

on  [ɒn] 

opposite  [’ɒpəzıt] 

out  [ɑƱt] 

outside  [ɑƱt’sɑıd] 

over  [’ əƱvə] 

past  [pɑ:st] 

round  [Ʊnd] 

since  [sıns] 

through  [Өru:] 

throughout  [Өru:’ɑƱt] 

under  [’ʌndə] 

up  [ʌp] 

within  [wı∂ın] 

without  [wı’∂ɑƱt] 



"They've been talking about going to Nashville for ten years."

"What have you been doing all day?" "Nothing. Just hanging around."

"Jack called up to speak to Vicky before she heard the news from anyone else."

"The unsecured ladder fell down as he painted the window frames."

"He maintained his innocence throughout the trial. But over the course of the week, the prosecution established that his past behaviour was far from innocent."




These consist of a VERB and a PREPOSITIONAL ADVERB. Being idioms, the literal translations do not represent their actual meanings. For instance the motto of the 1960's American counter-culture "Turn on, tune in and drop out" has nothing to do with "turning", "tuning"  or "dropping" anything. When someone vomits the VERB IDIOM is "to throw up", but no one actually throws anything upwards. IDIOMS may be specific to certain groups, industries or regions or they may spread through wider society. With modern communication and the rise of social media it is almost impossible to list the many words and phrases in use. The best way to learn those that apply to your interests is to read as much as you can and log on to English language websites that deal with your specific interests. If you use a search engine such as Bing, it will provide an auto-translation service if you right-click your mouse, should you get stuck on any particular meanings.



A simple way to remember the differences and how they may be used is the following EXAMPLE:

"Charlie ran up¹ a bar bill he couldn't pay. He waited until the barman was not watching and then ran up² the stairs, escaping to the street."


¹  The bar bill is not the object of "up" and "up a bill" is not a prepositional phrase to modify the VERB "to run". Instead "up" is an ADVERB modifying the VERB, whilst "bill" is the NOUN OBJECT of "ran".


² "stairs" is the NOUN OBJECT of the ADVERB "up" and the phrase "up the stairs" is an ADVERBIAL PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE which modifies the VERB "to run".


PRACTISE by identifying PREPOSITIONS and ADVERBS in as many different publications as you can, or write your own sentences using as many of the examples above as you can.




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